The Board of Education and Lincoln County Commissioners held a joint budget discussion session on Thursday (March 16th). The schools want almost $9 million more for fiscal 2024.
L. Wayne Howard Staff Writer
Area counties did a revaluation for property taxes over the last several months. By now, property owners have received notifications of their new values. Many have been shocked by the big increases from four years ago.
We have pointed out previously that the increased values assigned properties is NOT a tax increase. It is likely that most counties will actually cut their tax rate because of the big increase in values. But based on what we've heard from various sources including governmental meetings in recent weeks, it appears almost certain that your tax rate may go down--but the property tax bill you get this Summer will be larger than what you paid in 2022.
There are many reasons why that's true. One is that the extra money local governmental units--cities, counties, schools--got from the federal government in response to the COVID pandemic won't be coming again for fiscal 2024 (July 2023-June 2024). While there were restrictions on how that money could be used, it provided significant extra funds that won't be available for the coming fiscal year.
Another reason is that governments are having to deal with the same inflationary pressures that everyone else is facing. It's going to cost more to provide the same services.
When budget discussions were being held last Spring, this reporter asked then-County Manager Kelly Atkins, "aren't we putting off a lot of projects that will have to be addressed next year and the year after?" Among those things that were delayed were additions to the Lincoln County Animal Services facility, the Harven Crouse Detention Center, and others.
A few weeks ago, Lincoln County Commissioners heard a report that suggested that a new library is needed for eastern Lincoln County as well as improvements to the Jonas Library in Lincolnton and the Shanklin Library at Westport. On Thursday (March 16th) a joint meeting of the Commissioners and Board of Education revealed that the schools are asking for almost nine million dollars more than they got last year.
The Commissioners and School Board had adopted a Memorandum of Understanding that had presumed flat funding (no significant increase) in the schools' budget through fiscal 2024. The schools appear now to be wanting to scrap that agreement. If the Commissioners were to approve what the schools are now requesting, it would mean (even with the new higher values on properties) about five cents more on the County tax rate. This also comes at a time when other County agencies are asking for more money.
The Sheriff's Office recently added a second district in eastern Lincoln County. Staffing for that new location and other needs--not including any update to the jail--will mean they'll need a significant increase in funding.
While no official votes have yet occurred, private conversations with several Commissioners appear to indicate that all of them see a need for more money that will likely mean your tax bill will be going up.
Other area counties face much the same quandary as Lincoln. So your taxes are probably going to increase.
How much? We won't name names since no votes have yet been taken, but we understand that one Commissioner wants to keep the current rate. Two others want to decrease the rate--one by two cents (per hundred dollars valuation) and another by four; but in all cases, because of the big increase in values, it's almost certain you'll have to pay more in 2023.
Why are values so high? It's true that property values increased almost everywhere--in some locations more than in others. The Tax Department is required by law to set the values as close as possible to the true value a property owner could expect when selling a property. It's also true that the revaluation process occurred during a peak period--when prices were at their highest. In some cases, the values may actually have declined--although slightly--since the revaluation occurred.
If you have evidence to support a claim that your revaluation is too high, with your revaluation notice you received information on filing an appeal. It's not likely that your appeal would result in a significant decrease in your assigned value, but it may be worth trying.
While inflation has slowed a bit, it's still a problem and it is unlikely that it will be much less of a problem over the next year. Some of those projects that were put off last year may have to be put off yet another year. Even so, the cost of operations for governments--just like your own financial needs--is going to be higher than it was a year ago.
Before any County budget is approved and with it the new tax rate, Commissioners will hold multiple additional meetings and a public hearing; but we are convinced that you'll be paying more in taxes this year.